Peyton Manning is making cold calls to Indy liquor stores to put his bourbon on shelves

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Peyton Manning is not too enshrined in the Hall of Fame or too caught up in the overwhelmingly rave reviews of his Monday Night Football MegaCast to admit what his most critical job has been of late.

He's been a hustler. (His word, not ours.)

In the world of liquor, hustling is key, Manning said. Or, as he actually said. "You kind of have to hustle on it. Or it gets lost in the shuffle."

What Manning has been hustling is a bourbon, a brand called Sweetens Cove Tennessee Bourbon. For the liquor connoisseurs out there — 84% corn, 8% rye, and 8% malted barley.

Sweetens Cove is Manning's bourbon brand. And he's launching it in Indiana Wednesday.

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Thus, the hustling. Manning has been making cold calls to Indianapolis liquor stores to pitch his bourbon as a perfect concoction to put on their shelves.

"I'm in the cold-calling business," Manning told IndyStar.

Yes, Manning has been picking up the phone and making that call — the call that must certainly seem like a prank to the person on the other end. You can imagine the pitch:

Peyton Manning is in the bourbon business, set to launch his Sweetens Cove brand in Indiana Sept. 22.
Peyton Manning is in the bourbon business, set to launch his Sweetens Cove brand in Indiana Sept. 22.

"Um. Hey, this is Peyton Manning. I've got a really good liquor brand called Sweetens Cove. It's got the craziest story behind its name, you know. It's smooth and I think your customers might like it. Would you be interested in, um, trying it out?"

Yes. Manning has been making those calls to Big Red Liquors, 21st Amendment and plenty of other stores. And...

"I do at least kind of get a response and call back," Manning said. "But the bourbon has to do it after that. It has to be good."

And Manning has confidence, the kind that comes with being a five-time NFL MVP and a two-time Super Bowl winner, that this bourbon of his is not only good, It's spectacular.

'With a single cube about 7 o'clock'

First off, Manning isn't going to fake his way through this. When asked, "When is the best time to have a bourbon?" Manning revealed a little secret.

"Let me make it real clear that I am a high handicapper when it comes to being a bourbon expert and drinking bourbon," he said. "I'm new to it."

Though, if he's having one, it's with a single ice cube around 7 p.m.

For the most part, though, Manning calls himself an "authentic beer drinker." He has rotated from heavy beer to light beer and now, 45 years old, Michelob Ultra has been a dear friend to him, he said.

But Sweetens Cove bourbon, it's also very dear to Manning.

Peyton Manning at Sweetens Cove Golf Club in Tennessee, the namesake of his bourbon brand Sweetens Cove Tennessee Bourbon.
Peyton Manning at Sweetens Cove Golf Club in Tennessee, the namesake of his bourbon brand Sweetens Cove Tennessee Bourbon.

His journey to being part of a bourbon brand began in 2019 at a golf course in South Pittsburg, Tennessee, named Sweetens Cove.

It's a nine-hole golf course built in 2014 at the end of a gravel road from the remnants of a course called Sequatchie Valley, which previously existed on the same site. Sweetens Cove has been called golf’s “Field of Dreams.”

There is a tradition on the quaint course, which has never had a clubhouse or even plumbing: On the first tee, golfers take a shot of whiskey before they hit their first shot.

"That’s how, off of that tradition," Manning said. "That’s how we decided we needed to start a Sweetens Cove Bourbon."

Another famous athlete involved

Mark Rivers is a real estate developer by trade, managing partner of Sweetens Cove and also a friend of tennis star Andy Roddick. One day, Rivers and Roddick were talking about how there should be more nine-hole golf courses than 18. They're just more enjoyable to play.

They started searching on their phones for the best nine-hole courses around. Sweetens Cove kept popping up.

Then they started looking into its story and they couldn't get it out of their minds.

"If golf had national parks, this would be one of them," Rivers said. "We have to find a way to preserve and protect it for a long time."

Peyton Manning (right) poses with owners and key figures in the Sweetens Cove Tennessee Bourbon brand. From left, Tom Nolan, Andy Roddick, Rob Collins and Mark Rivers.
Peyton Manning (right) poses with owners and key figures in the Sweetens Cove Tennessee Bourbon brand. From left, Tom Nolan, Andy Roddick, Rob Collins and Mark Rivers.

In May 2019, Rivers and Roddick made the move. They put together a group of investors to buy the course, including Manning.

"You have one of the greatest football players of all time and one of the greatest tennis players," Rivers said. And Manning and Roddick have a friendship that goes way back, Rivers said.

Roddick often tells the story of being in Indy to play in tennis tournaments. After, he and Manning would get together at St. Elmo Steak House for that famous shrimp and to compare notes, Rivers said.

Roddick immediately thought of Manning going in on the course with him. And then, the more the investors thought about that course and that first-tee whiskey shot, they decided they wanted to take it to another level.

That level meant launching a bourbon that carried the Sweetens Cove name.

"This golf course had this really rich tradition that preceded us," Rivers said. "It's a really fun and authentic experience that really no other golf course had. It's a part of the charm and romance of the whole place."

'This is not a celebrity vanity project'

Sweetens Cove Tennessee Bourbon launched in 2020, first in Tennessee. The product is the result of tireless work by blender Marianne Eaves, Kentucky's first female master distiller. Manning calls Eaves the quarterback of the team.

It's now available in Texas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Colorado and South Carolina. Indiana becomes the seventh state for Sweetens Cove to hit shelves.

"Obviously, it's exciting to me because of my connections there," Manning said. "Indiana was always on our radar. It has a great bourbon history and ... it's something I was pushing for to have it in Indiana."

Only a few thousand bottles will be released in the state, available at local retailers and at many higher-end restaurants. Sweetens Cove costs about $200 a bottle.

Peyton Manning sits with Marianne Eaves, master blender of Sweetens Cove Tennessee Bourbon, which Manning is launching in Indiana.
Peyton Manning sits with Marianne Eaves, master blender of Sweetens Cove Tennessee Bourbon, which Manning is launching in Indiana.

Getting to the point of Wednesday's launch has been an impressive journey for Rivers, mainly as he watches how "active" the owners have been. A key example? Manning picking up the phone and making calls to liquor stores.

"I've said it before. This is not a celebrity vanity project," Rivers said. "This is well-known athletes rolling up their sleeves to be hands-on entrepreneurs and create something in the highest way possible."

Manning said he has had a blast doing it. And, so far, it's paying off. Sweetens Cove was recently ranked the No. 1 celebrity spirit in the world by Esquire.

It was No. 1 on another list, too — Manning's. When Colts owner Jim Irsay and the team threw a post-Hall of Fame induction party for Manning in Canton last month, they asked if there was anything special he wanted there.

"I'm very easy," Manning recalls telling them. "There are only two things we have to have — Sweetens Cove bourbon and St. Elmo shrimp."

The only problem: Sweetens Cove wasn't available in Ohio. So Rivers bought the bourbon in Kentucky, rented a limo and had it driven to Canton.

"I hope we did it legally," Manning said laughing (Rivers confirmed it was done legally). "If not, it's gone. It's all gone."

Now, Manning is hoping Indiana likes Sweetens Cove as much as his Hall of Fame partygoers did.

Follow IndyStar sports reporter Dana Benbow on Twitter: @DanaBenbow. Reach her via email: dbenbow@indystar.com.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Peyton Manning calls Indy liquor stores about his bourbon